Understanding Ankle Fusion

Ankle fusion (ankle arthrodesis) is a type of surgery used to join two or more bones of your ankle. The surgery is usually done to treat arthritis in the ankle.

The ankle joint

A joint is a place in the body where bones meet. The ankle joint is actually two joints. One of the joints is called the true ankle joint. The shinbone (tibia), fibula, and talus bones make up this joint. The second ankle joint is the subtalar joint. It is made up of the talus and calcaneus bones.

Why ankle fusion is done

Arthritis may make it hard for you to walk. It may make it hard for you to do daily activities. Surgery is an option when other treatments haven’t worked well enough. These may include exercises, bracing, medicine, and heat or cold. Ankle fusion surgery can help stop the pain. The surgery removes cartilage from the ankle joint. The bones in the joint are then attached together with screws, plates, nails, or other hardware.

How ankle fusion is done

Your ankle fusion will be done by an orthopedic surgeon. This is a surgeon who specializes in treating bone, muscle, joint, and tendon problems. The surgery can be done in several ways. The surgeon will make a cut (incision) through the skin and muscle of your ankle. An incision may also be made on your foot. If you have minimally invasive surgery, the incisions will be small. Your surgeon will remove cartilage from the affected joint. The bones in the joint will then be put together in the correct position. They will be attached with screws, plates, nails, or other hardware. A bone graft may be used to help the bones heal together.

Risks of ankle fusion

A normal side effect from ankle fusion is that you are less able to move (range of motion) the joint. This isn’t a major problem for most people.

Every surgery has risks. The risks of ankle fusion include:

  • Infection

  • Damage to nearby nerves

  • Bleeding

  • Blood clots

  • Bones not joining together properly

  • Misalignment of the bones

  • New arthritis in nearby joints. This is very common.

Your risks vary based on your age and general health. For example, if you are a smoker or if you have low bone density, you may have a higher risk for certain problems. People with diabetes that is not controlled well may also have a higher risk for problems. Talk with your healthcare provider about which risks apply most to you.